This is the first post in a two-part series, Financial Planning Careers,by Lauren Stansell, CFP® for the Bridge blog
By Lauren Stansell, CFP®
Financial Planning is a fantastic profession and I am constantly grateful to be part of it. The profession is ranked by U.S. News as the #8 Best Business Job, the #18 Best Paying Job, and #37 in The 100 Best Jobs. For me, and many I know, it is about so much more than salary – it’s about people, relationships, collaboration, learning, problem-solving, being part of a team, guidance, and more. As Dick Wagner, a pioneer of our profession, once shared, we, as financial planners, deal with “the most powerful and pervasive secular force on the planet” – money! This fact is something we cannot and must not take for granted in working with our Clients.
Money has the potential to touch every aspect of our daily lives, whether or not we realize it. Some money experiences are conscious money decisions: Should I buy product A or product B? Is this within my monthly budget? Can I afford this or that? Should I start saving to buy a home? Can I give to charity?
In other aspects of life, however, money can be a subconscious motivator or obstacle. Money scripts are imprinted on all of us throughout our lives. Our parents, siblings, and extended family members may teach us habits and feelings about money; society imposes another relationship with money altogether; and our friends and significant others have their own scripts, biases, and feelings about money.
We deal with these decisions, motivators, and obstacles in all the conversations we have with Clients — from the very first initial meeting, through the deep discovery process, and into the ongoing relationship we build.
For so many Clients, it can be hard to even imagine the totality of their financial picture. Being able to build relationships with our Clients and helping them to see their financial picture clearly is my favorite part of being a financial planner.
As financial planners, I believe our role is to know and to hold the cover of that puzzle box – the view of the big picture – for our Clients.
Completing the Puzzle
In a recent conversation with Spenser Thompson, the editor of the GGU blog, I shared that the life of each Client is like a unique puzzle – there are hundreds or thousands of individual pieces and the goal is to put these pieces together to complete the picture. The corner and edge pieces are clearly defined and easy to find in the pile and place on the outline of the puzzle – they are the most important pillars of that Client’s life. Next, we might sort the pieces by color, gathering similar pieces (dimensions of life, issues, financial challenges, goals) into piles. This is often accomplished through a deep discovery process with the Client. Then, we work to put the puzzle together so we can see the full picture. This is accomplished through the implementation and ongoing financial planning phases. Goals are set, worked towards, and, hopefully accomplished. Later, as new circumstances, goals, or dreams come up, the puzzle may expand to include new sections or replace old sections altogether.
As financial planners, I believe our role is to know and to hold the cover of that puzzle box – the view of the big picture — for our Clients. We hold space for them to discover the edges and fill in the middle. We help them to organize hundreds of pieces of data, or hundreds of questions and concerns, into a beautiful and clear picture of their life and their path forward. We help provide guidance when a life event causes a piece, or an entire section, to fall out — or when the Client wants a different future picture in that puzzle.
In doing so, we fulfill an amazing purpose: we empower Clients to see their financial picture and their future path, and we help them make adjustments all along the way to ensure their plan and their next steps align with their values and their dreams.
As financial planners, communication is perhaps the most important skill we have.
First, our listening skills are absolutely vital to every single client relationship. We are not necessarily programmed to be good listeners – society can teach us to believe that we must always have an answer; we must always be right; and we must try to have the last word. Financial planning is not about always having an answer for the next step. You must be an expert in the various necessities of your Client … but you cannot know what your Client needs or wants if you do not first listen.
It is common to always be preparing what to say next instead of truly listening. Listening is a skill we must consistently practice and improve upon. One of the related skills is being comfortable with silence. If you are fully listening to your Client, you will need to reflect and take some time to respond. There may be silence, and you have to know that is okay. You don’t have to fill the space: you can just breathe and respond appropriately to the conversation.
Financial planning is not about always having an answer for [the Client’s] next step.
Second, with our communication skills, we have to work on the delivery of our responses. We should not use jargon when answering a Client or explaining a topic. But, we also have to respect our Clients. They may be smarter than us in many things (and often are!). We do not want to demean them in any way, and we must be able to explain our topics and recommendations in a way that is respectful, clear, and understandable.
Third, we must learn to pay attention to body language. If we are discussing a topic and the Client’s eyes have glazed over, or they have a puzzled look on their face, or they are slouched and not paying attention, perhaps it’s time to take a break or revisit the approach to the topic we’re discussing.
At the end of the day, we can spew jargon and lengthy explanations of financial topics at our Clients, or we can listen to them, understand them, and share our thoughts with them in a way that works best for them.
I am always working on and building these skills through my work with Clients, colleagues, and mentors, and I am enjoying learning more about it as I pursue my M.S. in Advanced Financial Planning at Golden Gate University. In my next post, I will talk a bit about the Financial Planning Profession, why financial planning is a great second career, the CFP® designation, and transferable skills from fields such as psychology, accounting, finance, and (even) sales. If you have any questions about financial planning feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lauren Stansell, CFP®, is a Financial Planner with Yeske Buie. She resides and works in San Francisco, and loves the city! Lauren grew up (and spent her first three years with Yeske Buie) in Northern Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. Lauren earned an honors B.S. in Economics, summa cum laude, from Virginia Tech in May 2012. She earned her second honors bachelor’s degree in Finance, summa cum laude, from Virginia Tech’s CFP® Certification Education Track, a CFP Board-Registered program in December 2012. Lauren passed the CFP® exam in July 2014 and became a CFP® professional in February 2015. She is currently pursuing her Master’s in Advanced Financial Planning at Golden Gate University. Lauren co-founded the Financial Planning Association (FPA®) Student Chapter at Virginia Tech and was the first president of the organization. She is a graduate of FPA’s Residency Program. Lauren enjoys engaging with the next generation of financial planners; she served as the Co-Director of NexGen for the FPA of the National Capital Area when she lived in Virginia, and is now serving as the Director of Marketing Communications for the FPA of San Francisco